Articles & Writing

articles and writing banner credit Bosie Vincent

Looking after dancers during pregnancy and parenthood: the results

By Debbie Malina

Dancing Times Magazine, 1 June 2009

Readers may recall the article “Pregnancy and Parenthood”, published in the October 2008 Dancing Times, featuring details of a new research project which would be looking into the issues surrounding pregnancy and the subsequent challenges of returning to work for professional dancers and dance companies.

This project was initiated by Charlotte Vincent, artistic director of Vincent Dance Theatre. Research was undertaken with Dance UK, who had recently produced an information sheet for dancers looking at physical and psychological issues around pregnancy and parenthood, and also with Creative and Cultural Skills1.

Jane Whitehead, general manager of Vincent Dance Theatre, explains that the remit for their research was to be relatively simple. “We would ask dancers who had experienced pregnancy and childbirth what extra support would have made a difference to them, also about career decisions they had made and why they had done so. Choreographers, artistic directors and managers would also be asked about their experience of working with pregnant dancers and parents, the support they have been able to provide and anything else they would have liked to have been able to do.

“Two questionnaires were devised, one for choreographers, artistic directors and managers, the other for dancers and dance practitioners, which would include teachers and workshop leaders. More than 1,000 individuals were contacted through a variety of organisations including Dance UK, Equity, national dance agencies, local dance network organisations as well as performers, collaborators and teachers within companies. Over 300 UK companies and choreographers received the questionnaires.

“The response to the research has been excellent, with 66 responses received between August and the end of December 2008, representing a great range of experience and practice. These included individual practitioners, small independent companies, middle-scale touring companies and large-scale ballet companies.

“Dancers and dance practitioners who responded included those expecting their first child, some who were parents already, caring for children from newborns to teenagers, and even one mother of adult children keen to share her experience of combining parenthood with a dance career during the 1980s.

“Only one father responded, revealing, perhaps, that responsibility for childcare is still viewed, primarily, as being the mother’s. As well as from the UK, responses were also received from Australia and the US. We received responses from across the sector, some working full-time as dancers or teachers, while most were either freelance or employed on short-term contracts to deliver specific projects. These varied from independent projects and small-scale companies to middle or large-scale touring companies. The majority said they had returned to the same kind of work after having children, although, most freelancers, and those working on short-term contracts, commented that they now worked differently, choosing projects to fit in with childcare commitments.

“Responses were received from independent choreographers as well as from a range of companies including CandoCo, Random Dance, India Dance Wales, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and The Royal Ballet, and also from Greenwich Dance Agency and Dance Digital (formerly Essex Dance and Dance in Herts).

“While most companies and choreographers who responded had worked with either pregnant dancers or parents, none had worked with more than two dancers who had returned to their previous job. Consequently, of those organisations that did have a policy in place for working with pregnant performers or parents, few would have had the opportunity to put that into practice, so would have limited experience of doing so.

“Some choreographers and companies pointed to the fact that most of their dancers tended to be in their twenties, and therefore had either never, or rarely, been faced with these issues, as performers often change their career direction at the point they decide to have a family, enabling them to be away from home on tour less.

“Dancers and companies cited the need to return to – and maintain – fitness in order to perform physically demanding roles, as a reason why female performers often plan a job change alongside parenthood, moving into a difference role within dance as a manager or teachers.

“Dancers agreed that combining their career with parenthood represented an enormous challenge, describing feelings of insecurity resulting form physical changes caused by pregnancy and birth, and concern as to how their career would affect their child. Support from fathers, partners, grandparents, colleagues and flexible childcare providers was acknowledged as being essential in enabling them to make this work.

“Freelancers cited their ability to choose projects that fitted with available childcare, together with their capacity to tour, as being advantageous, while they acknowledged that the fact they were selective about projects and took extended breaks between employment did impact upon their income.

“When dancers were asked what additional support would have helped them, the majority responded that some kind of childcare support, closely followed by a more positive attitude from companies and being given access to advice would have been beneficial. They recognized the cost implications of childcare provision, and were very aware of the financial constraints companies and choreographers have to work within.

“This was echoed by choreographers and companies, most of whom did not have any written policy in place, either for working with or supporting dancers with children. Nonetheless, suppose was made available, including dance-specific health checks for those returning to work, access to childcare voucher schemes, flexible working hours, parents being allowed to bring their children into the studio on some occasions and also when on tour. While all companies said they wanted to be able to offer more in the way of support and acknowledged provision of childcare as being likely to have the biggest impact, cost was cited as the major barrier.

“In contrast, however, there were other forms of support, dancers said, which would have been helpful, but did not have major costs attached. These included schedules fixed well in advance, to enable parents to arrange childcare, the opportunity to attend class and keep in touch while on maternity leave. Better access to information about practical issues such as maternity pay and tax credits would have been helpful, as would the opportunity to be in contact with dancers who had already experience these issues. There was great straight of feeling form dancers that the most important factors were flexibility on both sides, along with a commitment to make things work.

“This is broad summary of the responses we received. We will now pull the detail together for the final report, highlighting good practice in a series of case studies and suggesting some family-friendly ways of working which companies can adopt. Childcare is clearly the biggest issue to be tackled if more dancers, especially mothers, are to be able to continue with their career after having children. In conjunction with Dance UK we will continue to lobby to raise awareness and improve provision for parents working in dance, hopefully enabling them to continue their careers.”

1. Creative & Cultural Skills is the Sector Skills Council for Advertising, Crafts, Cultural Heritage, Design, Music, Performing, Literary and Visual Arts which aims to bridge the gap between industry, education and the government giving employers influence over education and skills in the UK. Visit ccskills.org.uk for more information.

Contacts

The Pregnancy & Parenthood Research Repost is now available. To obtain a copy, or for further information contact: Katie Bough, Senior Administrator, Vincent Dance Theatre; email katie@vincentdt.com or call: 0114 221 0369.

For general information on the research and for Dance UK’s information sheet on Pregnancy & Parenthood for dancers contact: Helen Laws, Healthier Dancer programme manager, Dance UK; email helen@danceuk.org or call 020 7713 0730.

Instagram